Freelance cannabis brand consultant Saxon Wyatt says Australia is on the precipice of a booming cannabis industry – if we can get it right.
Despite the snail-pace movement, it’s still a dizzying time in the Australian cannabis industry right now what with the TGA’s recent decision that could see CBD available over the pharmacy counter by mid-2021 and state-based industrial hemp harvests flourishing across the country.
Plus we’ve seen demand for medicinal cannabis boom with prescriptions up by 82% in 2020 according to TGA figures and ASX biotechs and pharmaceuticals leading the growth of medicinal cannabis on a local and global scale.
While this is all great local news, it poses the question: will the Australian cannabis industry catch up to North America’s sophisticated market? One that sees micro-growers and biotechs shape a thriving recreational and medicinal cannabis market predicted to be worth US$35 billion by 2024.
Back home, even with the ODC and TGA helping to move the industry in the right direction, the every-state-for-itself attitude is making national reform a little hazy. A case in point was the Greens’ efforts to make medicinal cannabis use a defence against drug-driving convictions being voted down in the NSW parliament.
It feels like only the likes of big pharma will stand a chance of cracking through the regulatory fog.
The long-term danger for Australian cannabis consumers is a sea of sameness – a homogenised and limited product range offered by a handful of biotechs and only available through compound chemists with no point of product difference.
And I’m not disparaging the groundbreaking services our industry heavyweights are forging. It’s just imperative for sector growth that a diversity of legal cannabis strains and products can be accessed without a pharmaceutical monopoly.
Imagine if the Australian craft beer or wine industry stayed in the hands of a few big breweries or wine makers, we’d still only be drinking VB and space-bag.
Part of the solution may lie in applying key learnings from North America’s dispensary model to kick-start the reform conversation and convince Australia’s law makers that regulated retail cannabis outlets are safer, more educational environments for the consumer to purchase recreational and medicinal cannabis brands.
Imagine, with all our state and federal regulatory bodies onside, how an infant Australian industry would be uniquely positioned to benefit from US dispensary mistakes and promote a model where micro-growers and large-scale operators can legally live side by side – offering an affordable, diverse range of top-shelf cannabis products from regulated Apple-store-esque dispensaries and online businesses.
“It feels like only the likes of big pharma will stand a chance of cracking through the regulatory fog.”
Right now though, the big challenge for US dispensaries and Australian clinics is addressing consumer affordability. Even in Colorado, where cannabis dispensaries outnumber Starbucks and McDonald’s combined, customers are complaining about over-inflated prices.
So if our Australian authorities are genuinely serious about long-term industry growth, they must relax licence, permit and annual fees to encourage market entry for SME retailers and grow operators of all sizes.
More importantly, this economic stimulus opportunity would level the field for legitimate businesses of any size and help stamp out black market players, which is something all licensed operators are battling against today.
The fact is, under-the-radar growers have never been busier operating in a Covid-19 black market. It’s no surprise the illegal purchase choice is easier for most consumers, when cannabis clinic consultancy fees and monthly CBD oil or cannabis flower prescriptions are 3-4 times more expensive than your local sketchy weed and edibles dealer.
Even worse, the cannabis product offered by some clinics is imported from overseas, which does little to support our local industry.
In many respects, the core solution to regulatory change and reform is an Australian referendum to legalise cannabis, allowing people to possess and consume restricted quantities. However, unlike the failed New Zealand referendum, our current Australian operators and bodies need to step up their efforts in educating the wider public about cannabis before going to a vote.
“Imagine if the Australian craft beer or wine industry stayed in the hands of a few big breweries or wine makers, we’d still only be drinking VB and space-bag.”
Basically, we need to shift the perception of cannabis in this country from dangerous to desirable. Undoing all the fake news from the last century and breaking misconceptions that the ‘evil weed’ is a gateway to harder drugs, pedalled by low-life bikie gangs.
Thankfully, the flourishing size and reach of the US and Canadian markets are leading to a reimagining of ‘brand cannabis’ for the masses. Where share of voice on social and other media channels now has more people talking, hearing and asking questions about the positive benefits shared by all cannabis products.
Meanwhile in Australia, Covid-19 and the rise and risk of alcohol consumption linked to domestic violence has given cannabis a space for consumers to consider the calm, healthy effects of CBD as a stress-free alternative to life in a pandemic. Positive PR momentum from political advocacy, healthcare professionals and a new dedicated media platform are also guiding education reform for our fledgling industry.
However, the final push in swinging skepticism lies with multi-state, vertically integrated operators and VC start-ups whose media buying power reaches a wider audience. By creating user-case content to distinguish cannabis plant varieties, the spectrum of cannabinoid effects, when to use, and what to look for when buying, they can continue to amplify awareness and debunk many myths.
Also, with the industry on the cusp of revolutionising healthcare, cannabis companies can align the wellness narrative to their own business ambitions to drive brand loyalty and product demand.
Through this approach to reform, our Australian cannabis industry truly does have the best conditions to legitimately thrive and rival global markets. Now, with the pieces all in play, let’s hope the authorities, the industry and those beyond it realise the economic opportunity that a more open and diverse market brings to Australia.